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The Story of A Grain of Wheat,
by William C. Edgar, 1904




Published May, 1903







Introductory - Wheat's story - Early development - The black bread era - The white bread period - Further progress - The mission of wheat

THE writer does not claim to be an authority on wheat; neither by scientific knowledge nor by exhaustive study is he qualified to thus approach the subject. His point of view is that of one who, glancing rapidly over the marvelous history of this king of cereals, and noting the development of its growth and usage to conform to the requirements of modern civilization, is concerned more with the actual food problem of the present time and with questions touching the immediate future of the world's food supply than in the deeply alluring by paths of chemical and botanical research or in the no less absorbing study of statistics, which sometimes leads even the wisest of the un wary into many strange and bottomless pitfalls. Such lines of research must be left to the specialist, and the literature concerning them is already extensive and growing greater with the increase of governmental inquiry and commercial progress.

For the purpose of this story, we may leave the scientist in his laboratory and the compiler of statistics in the maze of figures with which he has surrounded himself, and so, touching but lightly upon the more profound phases of the subject, attempt to briefly narrate the achievements of the past in wheat culture, and reserve for more extensive consideration questions of vital interest to the bread eaters of today.

The story of a grain of wheat must be at the same time the story of a sack of flour and the story of a loaf of bread, in order to be at all comprehensive, and yet we may not, for lack of space, dwell upon the technical making of flour or the baking of bread. Each of these subjects would require a book in itself, and many books there are, printed in various tongues, which treat of them. Wheat is flour, flour is bread, and bread is food, the chief of all foods; man's constant mainstay and support from time immemorial, the primary object in his struggle for existence. Food for the stomach takes precedence in the long list of man's demands upon the world, and bread has been the cry of the needy since history's beginning.

The story of a grain of wheat tells the story of man's long continued struggle for plenty; the response of nature to her children asking for food; the emergence of mankind for savagery, when regardless of anything save the pangs of hunger, the first miller plucked the berry from the stalk and, using his teeth for millstones, ground grist for a customer who would not be denied his stomach.

Thence onward, growing more sophisticated and taught the need of forethought by dire experience, man planted and reaped his slender crop by the most primitive of implements; he ground his poor stock of wheat in a rude mortar with a rugged pestle, putting by his stock of rudimentary flour against a time of need was sure to come. Then came larger fields, planted in more generous measure and cultivated by clumsy yet still improving tools, with greater crops following more intelligent handling. Poor fields at best, telling a pathetic story, as we look back upon them from the civilization of today, yet dear to the pioneer farmer. Tilled sometimes by slaves driven to labor with blows; sweating and groaning at unending tasks. More happily, sometimes, by honest yeomen who first wrested their ground from nature and then defended their crops from the prowling beasts, from marauding bands of soldiers, from the thief by night and the oppressor by day. Gaining at last a comparatively poor crop, from which, something barely enough to keep body and soul together was finally garnered and safely housed for the season's use. Then, to the miller of the day, with his creaking wind mill grinding out the grist on ill dressed stones, he, also taking his share of the harvest for his labor. Thus came the era of black bread, coarse and dirty, fit only for strong teeth and the digestive apparatus of a rugged outdoor man.

The black bread times, when the flour of all save the very rich was dark and filled with the impurities incident to the primitive method of its milling. The black bread times, when the peasant was over ridden and crushed to earth by his domineering and arrogant rulers, merciless in their treatment of the toiler. Those old wheat fields eloquent of man's inhumanity to man; often beaten to the ground by the tramp of armed hosts just as the beautiful berry was reaching its maturity. The peasant farmer and his wife and children emerging from concealment to witness the ruin of their season's hopes, thankful to encounter starvation even, if they are left but a roof to cover them. Then the years of failure and blight, when both nature and man conspired against the wheat; when drought and taxes scraped the fields bare, and the man who planted them, huddled hungry in his hut, thinking the murder and arson which later was acted to the ominous music of the ca ira. So, by natural ways, sowing the wind, reaping the whirlwind, to the oft repeated and terrible cry of "Bread or blood!" mankind told the story of wheat in sanguinary and imperishable characters which future generations dare not disregard; contemporaneously writing the story of human liberty' the striving to hold and enjoy that which the labor of man's hands had brought from the soil.

Then, in this story of wheat, come brighter chapters with the dawn of a lighter and better civilization, and the coming of less frequently interrupted peace. The beautiful wheat fields of modern Britain extending all about comfortable homes, neat cottages, and noble mansions; a land protected by just laws and governed wisely; her people safely guarded against oppression from within and invasion from without. Rich fields tilled industriously and yielding abundantly; the work ground of a happy people, who labored to good effect. The grain taken to mills of some magnitude, cleaned and scoured on somewhat scientific principles; ground into flour on millstones; giving a beautiful golden product from which was made a bread as far superior to the black bread of the Continent, as was England's liberty to continental freedom. The miller, typified by him of the Dee, a man of influence and weight in community, serene and prosperous. And all, from the farmer who planted to the miller who ground and the baker, somewhat uplifted by having to do with King Wheat under favoring circumstances.

Still pleasanter and more inspiring are the later and grander chapters in the wonderful tale of a grain of wheat, and what it has done for man. The story crosses a wide ocean and is taken up by that consistent wheat grower, the Anglo Saxon, in a newer and wider and even freer land. The chapter on America, still open and continuing, tells of the march of the pioneer from east to west, always accompanied by a larger expanse of wheat fields; of records made in wheat production only to be broken by other and still greater ones; of a new nation reaching out to feed an older world; of vast systems of railway and steamship transportation created in response to an increasing demand for bread abroad and a steadily growing production of wheat at home; of crops unparalleled in the world's history for magnitude and quality; of enormous fields cultivated by machinery of marvelous ingenuity; of gigantic mills, elaborated and scientific of process, grinding day and night with rank upon of steel rolls, a product of surpassing color and quality, purified of all deleterious or unclean substances, being the purest and most nourishing food ever provided for the human race, making an ideal bread, healthful, clean, and strength producing, the food of the twentieth century, the climax of the white bread era.

Moving still onward and never resting even as man's ambitions never sleep, the story of wheat goes forward. Yesterday a wilderness, today the abode of the pioneer, tomorrow a waving field of grain. Northward over the boundary of the United States, into Canadian northwest, spreading over lands but recently supposed to be valueless, marches on the King of Cereals, bringing civilization and law and order and justice with him. A thousand, fifteen hundred, two thousand miles to the north and west and still are found wheat fields yielding phenomenal crops of superb quality. This is the latest achievement in the white bread era, and men are wondering how many more thousands of acres are available for the culture of this plant before the word finis is written.

The climax of development thus far in the white bread era is found in the spectacle afforded by one of the great flour manufacturing plants of the time, employing hundreds of skilled millers, driven by powerful engines with steam and water power or both, equipped with every mechanical device which can contribute to the quality of the product or the cheapness of operation, humming, throbbing, and thrilling with industrial life, operating steadily the year around and producing from five to ten thousand barrels of flour daily. Contrast this with the poor, fitful wind mill of the black bread age with its meager equipment of primitive machinery and its miller or two, and some idea is gained of man's progress in the matter of flour making.

Perhaps a more striking contrast even than this is the picture of a modern field of wheat just ready for harvest. Five thousand acres given over exclusively to wheat raising. Stretching in every direction as far as the eye can see, one unbroken, waving mass of grain. The sight is glorious and inspiring, and when the mind recalls the little patch of doubtful grain, brought from the soil by arduous, unintermittent, unintelligent labor; dwarfed, insignificant, harried and threatened, and yet pathetically precious to the peasant wheat grower of the black bread period, the soul is lifted up, and the glorious story of a grain of wheat is told without words in a picture painted by the hand of a gracious Almighty, who, through the ages of oppression and fear, had brought forth his people to be witness of his greatness through the hand of man and the bounty of nature.

Thus the tale of wheat is ever the story of man's achievement with God's help, each chapter marking an upward step in human progress, an advance in knowledge, science, and civilization; finally triumphing in a brotherhood of man wherein the east may be hungry but the west will not let her starve. Interdependent, the nations shall feed each other, and wheat will continue its beautiful mission of peace and good will; and there will be no more hunger in all the world.

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The milling of wheat - Earliest methods - The saddle stone, the mortar, and the quern - The feudal law of milling soke - Slave and cattle power - Water mills and wind mills - The use of steam power - Milling process in 1799

To properly tell the story of milling, its development from the rude processes of ancient times to its present fine mechanical perfection, its growth from the primitive mill of the middle ages to the modern roller mill capable of producing in a single day enough flour to feed a small city for an entire year, would require volumes. It has a history full of incident; it has its affected the policy of nations; it has had a bearing upon important political events, and great industrial battles have been and still are being fought by those engaged in it. Its achievements are the story of man's endeavor towards industrial perfection, the production of the most and best at the least cost. Its discoveries have led to the extension of certain of the earth's products at one time supposed to be comparatively valueless. It has served the painter, the song writer, and the poet. It has furnished a background for the maker if fiction, and it has a very respectable, if fragmentary, literature of its own. Since it became a distinct trade the making of flour has always been esteemed an honorable occupation, and the miller has occupied an unique position in history because of his traditional sturdiness and independence of character. A favorite theme of writers of all ages has been the miller and his mill, and it is still deservedly popular, although the mill is no longer picturesque, and the miller, from being a mere rustic whose stout maintenance of his rights and more than average intelligence lifted him above the farmers whose grist he ground, has become a great merchant and man of affairs.

While it would be impossible to narrate the history of this noble and important industry within the limits of this work, it would be equally impossible to tell the story of a grain of wheat without devoting some part of it to milling, for were it no for the work of the miller, that of the wheat raiser would be useless. The ultimate value of a crop lies in the worth of the wheat to the miller when he has transformed it into flour. This is a simple and self evident proposition, it would seem, and yet it is one which many ambitious speculators have overlooked in their efforts to put the price of wheat beyond its legitimate value, and have later discovered to be the true cause of their undoing. Since this is true, it is necessary, in order to understand rightly the story of wheat, to have some understanding of the story of milling, and this chapter and the next principle points in the history of its growth will be briefly stated.

Primeval man reduced grain to flour by means of a hand stone. For four thousand years this was the only form of mill in use. The grain was placed in a hollow stone and pounded into meal by means of a stone crusher. Aboriginals in all countries used this simple process of milling. In the prehistoric Swiss lake dwellings crushers were in ordinary use. The first grinding mill was the saddle stone. This marked the initial stage in the development of the milling processes. It had been used throughout the world. The Greeks and Romans knew it, and it is still in use. The upper surface of the stone was made concave; in this hollow the grain was rubbed or ground by means of another stone. This was worked forward and backward; not roller. Large numbers of these ancient saddle stones have been discovered, and bear witness to the use to which they were put. The millers of Babylon, Nineveh, Assyria, and Egypt used this process. The method of grinding used by the native Africans of today is the same as that in use in the time of Abraham. The relics discovered in recent times in the ruins of ancient cities show with great fidelity to detail the exact process. A statuette of painted wood found near the pyramids of Dashur on the Nile not far from Gizeh is that of a woman kneeling and grinding grain by means of the saddle stone. Two limestone statuettes from the tombs near the pyramids of Saggarat show women engaged in grinding by the same method and in the same posture. Both of these are of date about 2200 B.C. Six hundred years later, when Joseph became Pharaoh's administrator of grain supplies, the chief baker was imprisoned and subsequently hanged for producing flour. His grinding was done on the saddle stone. The Hebrews probably used the same appliance after they came out of Egypt, and, as with the Egyptians and Chaldeans, their women and servants did the grinding. The saddle stone endured through the civilization of Greece and Rome, and the prehistoric remains of almost every race in Europe abound with proofs of the fact that they used it. Across the Atlantic, the aboriginal inhabitants were saddle stone millers, as their relics attest, and strangely enough, their mills were greatly superior in structure, detail, and finish to any saddle stone of Europe at even its best period. Thus the Americans in prehistoric days seem to have led their transatlantic contemporaries in the art of flour making, as they unquestionably do in many respects today.

In some countries the mortar was a contemporary and ultimately a successor of the saddle stone. The mortar was portable, but its great distinction was in being fashioned both inside and outside. This marked the step from barbarism to civilization. In the mortar period, the Greeks made the first recorded milling revolution in substituting men for women as flour makers. The operatives were termed "pounders." The Romans subsequently adopted this word, translating it to "pistores." Their term survived in England and elsewhere long after the millers ceased to make flour by pounding the grain. Two centuries before the birth of Christ milling was still drudgery and very often performed by slaves or criminals. The mill and the bakery were combined among the Romans and termed the "pistrinum." Servants and slaves were punished by being obliged to do the grinding. State mills were established among both Greeks and Romans, and criminals were sentenced to labor in them. The work of making and baking flour had been one business from the time of the hand stone until the mortar period. Indeed, it was really a part of the domestic machinery of each household, rather than a distinct industry. Pliny says there were no bakers in Rome until the war with Perseus of Macedonia, more than five hundred and eighty years after the building of the city; the citizens used to bake their own bread, and of course grind their own flour. In 167 B.C., following the defeat of Perseus, a band of captured Greek "pounders" were led into Rome, a part of the triumphal entry of Paulus AEmilius. These craftsmen were set to work at their occupation, grinding and baking, and this was really the foundation of the trade. Not long after Pliny's death the Romans abandoned the mortar for the quern. Less civilized nations continued to use it, and with the saddle stone it lingered for many years, but was finally discarded by all save the rudest nations of the earth.

The quern, a Italian invention of some two thousand years ago, was the next step in the progress of milling. It was the first complete grinding machine in which the parts were mechanically combined, and succeeded loose stones. The quern introduced a circular motion, the upper stone revolving upon the lower. The saddle stone was a thrusting machine; the quern a revolving mill. This was the machine in use at the dawn of the Christian era. The familiar quotation, "Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken and the other shall be left," was translated by Wyckliff early in the fourteenth century: "Tweine wymmen schulen ben gryndynge in o querne, oon schal be taken and the tother lefte." The "mola versatilis," as the Romans called the appliance, became known as the quern with the introduction and spread of the mill through Britain, Gaul, and Europe generally by the Romans. The quern of the early period was of one type; the lower stone was conical at first, then flattened; the upper stone fitted its mate and conformed to its shape; a hollow in the center, with a hole at the base, served as a hopper for the grain, and in a small hole drilled in the side of the upper stone a handle was inserted. An early but important improvement in the quern was the grooving of the grinding faces of the stone. The edges of the grooves performed the grinding, and their hollows conveyed the meal to the rim of the stones; this was the rude initiation of the right principle of methodical furrowing, not fully developed until the era of water mills. The quern was the original British flour mill. In parts of Europe and Asia it is still used, and it is found abundantly in China and Japan. Among the Arabs also the quern is employed. Mr. Richard Bennett, to whose admirable work, the History of Corn Milling, the writer is greatly indebted for much of the information contained in this chapter, found a quern in ordinary daily use at a secluded cottage near Drontheim, Norway, in 1897. This quaint mill stood upon a table three feet high. A square frame enclosed the top of the table and contained a loose circular casing surrounding the stones. The flour was removed from this by sweeping it at intervals to the right hand corner, where it escaped through a hole and fell into a drawer; altogether a rude but effective grinding machine. A little more than a century ago the quern was in common use in parts of the United Kingdom, but, as Mr. Bennett says: "The march of improvement has rapidly thinned the number of British querns in use, and miller flour from Liverpool or Minneapolis shortly promises to become even less of a curiosity in the retired home of the quern than the old hand mill itself."

At least something more than passing mention is due to the ancient and now obsolete quern as a development in the milling processes, because of the notable struggle between landlord and tenant, between the public and the lord, which followed the execution of the feudal law of milling soke in England; a characteristic fight of the Briton against oppression. Soke or soc was the monopoly formerly claimed by the mill owner of grinding all grain used within the manor or township in which the mill stood. The quern was the poor man's mill, operated in his own house without toll. The lords of the manor granting charters to their tenants usually stipulated for a reservation of all milling rights and privileges, compelling tenants to operate the mills they erected, and forbidding the use of querns. When religious institutions were endowed with gifts of mills, a frequent occurrence, the grants gave the monks the exclusive right to grind grain for the district and prohibited hand mills. One of the earliest milling documents is a charter given to the monks of Embsay Priory, Yorkshire, in 1150. The rights of the king's mills of Dee, at Chester, were confirmed by Edward III in 1356, and the use of hand mills was forbidden. The laws establishing such rights are older than the English statutes. These customs prevailed in a more or less stringent form throughout Europe for many centuries, and were the cause of a determined effort to suppress querns, which lasted seven hundred years, from the eleventh to the eighteenth century. In order to secure an absolute monopoly of the milling business in the district protected by the custom of milling soke, the manorial lords waged a war of extermination against querns. Some were purchased, others stolen, and all thus obtained were destroyed. King, priest, and squire insisted on their rights and searched the cottages for the forbidden machines, dragging them forth from their hiding places, and breaking them up. If the peasant objected, the law was appealed to, and it invariably sustained the strong against the weak.

The history, furnished by the excellent monks themselves, of a prolonged fight over querns at St. Albany's Abbey, Cirencester, is merely an exact and recorded instance of what must have been a somewhat common occurrence in those days. The row began in 1274, and continued for many years. The good abbot, worthy soul, owned milling rights for the entire town, so he ordered the citizens to forfeit to him their treasured querns. He agreed, in consideration, that he would solemnly swear his miller to strict honesty, and, in the event of a dispute, that he would try the case before a court of twelve jurors. For a time this arrangement was maintained, but after patiently playing the abbot's little game for fifty years the townspeople rebelled. They attacked the abbot and besieged his abbey, successfully obtaining from the good man a charter of liberties of a sort although it did not include absolute freedom from compulsory grinding at his mill. They immediately set up their querns again, while the abbot quietly awaited his chance for a return engagement. They were in no hurry in merry England at that time, and the abbot waited six years for his opportunity. When it came he descended in force on the town, searched the houses, captured the contraband mills and carried them off to the abbey, where they were used to pave the floor of his private room as an evidence of his prowess. Fifty years rolled by during which the excellent abbot was gathered to his fathers, and his successors walked over the quern paved floor. In 1381, Wat Tyler having stirred up a rebellion, the slow moving townspeople bethought them of their time honored grudge against the abbey, and again attacked it. They forced admission within its walls, dug up the paved floor, recovered the broken querns and distributed them as trophies of their victory. In return the abbot made a raid on the town with his bailiffs and carried away the citizen's hand mills. If they had patiently waited a matter of fifty years or so they might have caught the abbot napping and have repeated their previous successes, but they were hot and hasty and appealed to the law. This must have caused the jolly priest to shake his plump sides with laughter, for he well knew his legal rights. The result of the lawsuit was that twenty of the townspeople executed a bond in behalf of themselves and fellow citizens agreeing to pay the abbot a fine of one hundred marks, about $330, and to grind their grain henceforth at his mill.

The charter granted to Vale Royal Abbey in Cheshire in 1299, gave it the milling rights of the neighboring town. For thirty years they were duly exercised; but the townsmen then rebelled and arose in arms to prevent the capture of their querns. Then ensured a hopeless struggle, terminated by the submission of the mistaken people. A number of them appeared before the gently prelate in his monastery with halters around their necks, formally admitting their error. In many of these quarrels the worthy clergy of the time used the spiritual weapon of excommunication to excellent effect. In 1229 the tenants of the admirable prior of Dunstable refused to pay taxes or to grind at the priory mills. They not only withheld taxes and tithes, but they trampled down the prior's grain and told wicked stories about the worthy monks. The clergy retaliated by threatening to excommunicate the rebels. The townspeople weakened at the threat to a degree and said that they would go to the mill, but rather than pay the taxes, they would take the chances of going to a hotter place. The prior was properly grieved at this impertinent answer, and appealed to the chief justice, who threatened the people with the law. This was unavailing, and finally the Bishop of Lincoln was asked to assist the perplexed prior. His grace did so by solemnly excommunicating the whole of the turbulent townsmen, but it was only after pacific arbitration that the long standing feud was healed. These occurrences show under what circumstances the quern maintained its hold upon popular estimation. It should be noted that the milling soke was not exercised by the millers, but by the landlords who owned the mill.

Various adaptations of hand mills were used previous to the abolition of soke laws; more machinery of a simple character was added to the quern, but the principle of grinding flour by means of mill stones continued until very recent years. The greatest changes during the many centuries were made in the motive power rather than in the method of grinding the grain itself. Originally the woman was the universal miller and supplied the power which drove the hand stone and the saddle stone itself. Then, as already related, slaves and even criminals did the drudgery of grinding. The mills in operation in Pompeii when it was destroyed in 78 A.D., as shown by the remains discovered in its ruins, were slave propelled. Cattle mills and slave mills were originally similar; the ass was originally used for mill driving, and for many years in Rome the human animals and their brute companions performed the flour making for the Eternal City. After the abolition of slavery in the fourth century, cattle mills were generally adopted. Tread mills worked by convicts were used in Europe as early as 1537, and are still used in some countries the sole survivors of the old Roman slave mills.

The slave and cattle mill preceded the water mill. First the Greeks and then the Romans used water as power for grain grinding. The early allusions to this, the world's first power mill, occur in the chronicles written from 65 to 85 B.C. In northern and western Europe primitive water mills have existed beyond all historic records. The Norse mill, as it is usually termed, was established in Britain at an early date. From the seventh to the eleventh century this type was in use in Ireland. In portions of Scotland the Norse mill is still no uncommon. The medieval Roman mill was of the vertical type. Records of a water mill in France exist in a twelfth century manuscript in the Harleian collection. Prior to the Conquest, England abounded with water mills; the smaller being of the Norse or Greek type, the larger of the more complete Roman pattern. The Domesday Survey, finished in 1086, gives complete statisitcs of the mills of England, including their number and location, with particulars of rental, etc. The lists contain the names of numerous places where ancient water mills still exist, and where milling has been continuously done since the days of the Saxons.

It is not within the scope of this book to give technical details of milling processes; therefore an account of the improvements made in water mills from their introduction to the present time is not attempted. The wind mill came into existence much later than the water mill. A wind mill tower of the Crusader period still exists in Syria. The year 1200 seems to be about the date when they were introduced into England, and various styles developed from the original type and came into almost universal use. The picturesque wind mill of Holland is a good example of the tower wind mill. In 1784 the Gentleman's Magazine announced that "A new discovery has lately been made and is now carrying into execution near Blackfriar's Bridge of a method of grinding corn by means of a fire engine, which communicates a power of working thirty six pair of stones, besides other subordinate machinery for bolting, etc.; this promises great profit if the inventor can carry it into effect at a moderate expense." The mill thus referred to stood at the Surrey end of Blackfiar's Bridge, London, and the engines were two 50 horse power, made by Boulton & Watt. They worked successfully, and thus the steam mill at last entered the milling field.

As the changes in flour making were gradual, so also was the change in the character of the miller himself. When the grinding was purely a domestic occupation, the women of the household was both miller and baker. Then slaves or servants ground and baked. Slowly milling as a distinct trade emerged from its surroundings, and millers ceased to be bakers. Cattle, water, wind and steam became the grinding power, except in barbaric countries where ancient usage still lingers. The feudal laws held the miller in bondage almost as much as they did his customer, independent mills were few in the middle ages, the lord of the manner owned the mill and his miller was a hireling or merely rented the plant. In time, this system passed away and at last the miller was free, a member of a distinct and separate trade.

At the end of the eighteenth century, both in Europe and America, water and wind mills in large numbers were doing a thriving business. The plant of the time was a structure of few parts and its processes were quite simple. The wheat was cleaned by a machine consisting of a pair of cylinders or screens and a blast of air. The grinding stones by this time had become flat and round and were scientifically furrowed; they ran close together in order that, when the wheat passed through them, the greatest amount of flour might be produced. The meal was bolted and the tailings, consisting of bran, middlings, and adherent flour, again sifted and reground. This was essentially the millstone process of milling before Oliver Evans improved upon it, and although it was simple, in spite of its imperfections, the flour it produced was so desirable that, from being an insignificant trade, milling grew to be one of the greatest and most valuable industries of the time. The miller was a rising man, although he was still more allied to the farming than the industrial class, and did not dream of the position in the commercial world he was destined to occupy. Grist mills were the rule and merchant mills exceptional.

A peculiar fact in connection with the development of milling is that today every type of mill known in the history of the trade can still be found in active and practical operation in some quarter of the globe, so that the course of the various processes may be clearly traced by using modern examples. Some Indian tribes in America crush grain in prehistoric fashion; the saddle stone method, such as was used in the time of Abraham, is still doing duty in parts of Africa; in the Transvaal the pestle and mortar may be seen in common use; the quern may be found still in commission in certain parts of Europe and Asia; the slave mill was but the prototype of the tread mill; mills driven by cattle are not extraordinary; water mills, tide mills, wind mills, tripod mills, post mills, tower mills; mills operated by steam and electricity; stone mills and roller mills from the beginning to the present, the story of milling progress may be read by the curious in devices and machines still in use and still performing practical work.

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Progress of milling - The milling revolution - The purifier and its story - Developments of Minneapolis as a milling center - Direct exports of spring wheat flour - The mill explosion of 1878 - The coming of the roller mill - The abandonment of millstones - The modern flour mill - Commercial milling - The largest mills in the world - Review of present milling conditions

The manufacture of flour as it is understood in its largest sense today is really a new industry both in America and Europe; for it has been created since the introduction of new process milling which alone made the operation of large flour mills possible, and this occurred only about thirty years ago. It is such a modern industry that the statistical authorities at Washington are still unable to differentiate between flour and grist mill, and it will take at least another decade for British and American statesmen to understand that the business of flour making has ceased to be semi-agrictural occupation and had long become a great industry. The inland and ocean carriers, the legislators, the national authorities, and the general public do not yet understand that the exportation of a country's wheat, instead of its flour, is not an evidence of a nation's welfare, but rather the measure of its lost opportunities and a commercial blunder. The industry as it is today is so new that the miller who sold the first spring wheat flour abroad is still in the prime of life, and other millers who saw the dawn of the new era, as well as milling engineers who installed the first of the modern machines, are still engaged in active business.

The saddle stone process was that of the individual or household miller; the advent of the quern and its improvements marked the beginning of manorial or village milling; with the millstone came the grist mill, grinding for a large district and exacting a toll from the farmers who brought grain to it, lately developing, in a moderate way, into the merchant mill in some favorably located spots in Europe and America. Essentially, the millstone era was the grist mill period. This was swept away almost entirely, except in the more isolated rural districts, by what is called the "revolution in milling," which first brought the purifier into use and soon after substituted chilled iron rolls for the long used millstone, thereby enormously increasing the output of the plants, creating the modern merchant mill, with its traffic extending to remote markets at home and abroad, and relegating the grist mill to comparative obscurity and disuse. With this change came the present race of merchant millers, as distinctly different from the typical grist miller of the millstone period as he was from the quern miller, or as the last named was from the slave miller of Roman days.

For the first seventy years of the last century the development of milling processes, especially in America, was so slow as to be almost imperceptible. In parts of Europe experimental advances were made, but their effect was almost entirely local. Transportation facilities were such that millers would have been unable to go far abroad in their search for trade, even if the millstone had not been a method unsuited for large production. It is true that Oliver Evans, an American, made material improvements in 1790. His contrivances were simple, but, as they advanced the automatic handling of grain and flour, they were in line with developments which followed later, and were therefore valuable. He added to the milling plant of his day the elevator, the conveyor, the drill, and other devices. Labor saving was the object of Oliver Evans's improvements and they were welcomed and adopted, although, like many inventors of flour mill machinery, he was but poorly requited by pecuniary success; his name, however, occupies a deservedly high place in milling annals.

After Evans's time there came a lot of petty inventions of more or less merit. Various improved methods of dressing millstones were introduced; increased care was exercised in the selection and treatment of millstones; the choicest of which came from French quarries; there were new devices for leveling bed stones, better balance boxes for the runner, and silent feeders and exhaust to take the hot air from the stones. In the seventies several mechanical devices were invented for dressing millstones. These had undoubted merit, but they came into being too late to enjoy great success, and it was but a few years until the millstones they were intended to work upon became obsolete, and their occupation was forever gone. These machines are worthy of note, not only because of their ephemeral intrinsic value, but also on account of a permanent contribution their inventors made to the American milling industry which still endures and will probably exist as long as the trade lasts. In the endeavor to introduce their machines to the milling public, they found no printed medium at hand and therefore proceeded to establish one of their own. Rival machine makers began the publication of two milling journals, the primary object of which was to exploit their stone dressers. This was in 1873, and although the machines they were created to advertise passed out of use with the millstone, the journals themselves survived and found an opportunity for expansion in the awakened interest of American millers in milling devices and improvements. Although British milling was far older than the American industry, it did not possess a trade journal until those in the United States were established. It is significant of the change in the character of the milling trade which came with the new process, that before its advent agricultural journals were probably quite sufficient for the miller as well as the farmer, but after its introduction, he required a distinctive trade literature of his own; a want which the publishers of the two leading milling journals were quick to see and supply, with the result that although the machines are almost forgotten, the journals established to advertise them are flourishing and successful publications.

In the matter of progress in milling methods the first seventy years of the nineteenth century was a brooding period. The trade was getting ready for a radical and astounding change such as few industries have even known. This reform was to sweep everything before it in its sudden and unexpected onslaught, to overwhelm all opposition, ruin those who stubbornly clung to old ways, enrich those who were alert and progressive, break down all barriers, divert established trade channels, open up new fields for American grain growing, utilize opportunities which had long lain dormant, effect a complete change in the industrial map of the American northwest, build railroads, create new routes to old markets, reduce freight rates, immensely cheapen and improve the bread of the old as well as the new world, drive out of commission in Britain and American thousands of time honored old fashioned mills unable to compete in the new order of things, and bring into being flour mills of a capacity such as the world never before dreamed of.

During the brooding period antecedent to this era of activity and progress, millers generally, although of a somewhat sluggish and narrow business habit, were, prosperous. Flour commanded a high price in the world's markets and there was good profit in milling. It was indeed the golden ate of millstone milling. Several important milling centers developed in the United States, the flour from which became famous in the home markets. Although the Europeans export trade did not become very large until later, there had existed for many years a steady and remunerative demand for American flour in the West Indies and South America. About 1823, when the Erie Canal was opened, Rochester, N. Y., became an important milling point, a position it maintained for twenty years, during which its title, "the Flour City," was well sustained. Richmond, Va., was a large producer of flour, and one of its brands, the Haxall, marked the climax of excellence in millstone milling. New York city had several valuable mills doing a satisfactory domestic and foreign trade. St. Louis, Mo., was the prominent western milling center, and the standard of flour was kept at the highest point by its millers, who had a large and growing trade throughout the west and south. The flour of the time was made entirely from winter wheat except in States where only spring wheat could be obtained, and there the demand for it was merely local. The coming of the purifier made spring wheat flour valuable; before its invention and use it was regarded as far inferior to flour from winter wheat, being strong, but of poor color. The method of milling then in use was such that the intrinsic value of spring wheat was unknown and unsuspected. There were a few insignificant mills in Minneapolis, attracted to the spot because of the cheap water power afforded by the Falls of St. Anthony, but doing only a local trade. Throughout the entire United States the flour mills were comparatively small. In 1870 there may have been a few mills capable of producing 1,000 barrels daily, but these were regarded as exceedingly large. This figure is now considered merely the unit of capacity for successful modern milling in America.

A machine was introduced in Minneapolis in 1870 which was to milling what the reaper was to agriculture. No other one machine ever accomplished what it did for the world of bread eaters. About the time of its introduction good flour sold for ten dollars or more a barrel. The average price for patent flour in these days is about one third of its average then. The machine itself did not reduce the cost of making flour, but it enabled the miller to grind from the hitherto despised spring wheat a product which immediately commanded a price equal to the best winter wheat flour. This gave a great impetus to milling in the northwest, increased the demand for spring wheat, rendered valuable the crops of Minnesota, the Dakotas, and western Canada, and led to the agricultural development of that section of the western continent. Spring wheat flour sprang into favor in America, and when introduced abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, won its way against all competition. In the end, the demand for it caused British millers to remodel their mills and grind a mixture of home grown and American wheats.

Undoubtedly the invention of the purifier, which was merely a device for separating middlings and flour, was French. In a French work by Benoit, published in 1863, the purifier is fully and accurately described. Perrigault secured a patent for a middlings purifier in France on August 16, 1860. To Edmund N. La Croix, a native of France, belongs the honor and credit of introducing and building the first purifier in America. The poor man received nothing else from the machine which made millions for others and changed the industrial future of the northwest, having been treated most shabbily by the organized millers of his time as well as by those who pirated his invention or adaptation, and the distinction given him here is his due. The purifier of Perrigrault may have been the original of his machine, but had not La Croix built a similar one in Minneapolis in 1870 the process it inaugurated would not have become known until later, if ever, and the loss would have been incalculable. La Croix was an educated Frenchman, but unaccustomed to business ways, and lacked knowledge of the English language. Had he been shrewder and more suspicious, he would not have allowed the fruits of his work to escape him, and he might have obtained some of the millions which went to others as a result of his experiments.

The history of the purifier is an unwritten industrial romance. Fragments of it have been told, but the entire story is a trade legend, abounding in dramatic facts rivaling fiction, which awaits the coming of a comprehending novelist to weave it into a tale of absorbing interest. Briefly, the story is this; La Croix came to Minneapolis in 1870, and there built for a miller the first purifier known in America. For ten months the machine was operated successfully in the main, although it was crude. La Croix was immersed in his work, constantly experimenting and devising improvements. One fault with the device was that it became clogged with flour. The Frenchman planned an automatic brush to overcome this difficulty, but was slow in perfecting it, and careless in discussing his plans. In the same mill in which the purifier was being operated there was employed a stone dresser, a coarse, unlettered workman, huge in stature, ponderous, sensual, and taciturn, yet possessed of a sort of underhanded cunning, which in this instance answered his purpose exceedingly well. This stone dresser, Smith, realized the possibilities of the new machine, and lost no time in securing its control for himself. He claimed to have invented the purifier and the attached traveling brush, and perhaps he did apply the brush to the machine.

While La Croix was experimenting and dreaming, Smith secured patents and thenceforth posed as the creator of the modern purifier, although he never subsequently showed the faintest trace of inventive talent. Smith went to Jackson, Mich., with his patents, and there succeeded in interesting capitalists in the invention. In 1878 the Smith Middlings Purifier Company was organized. The patents obtained by Smith were vested in a corporation formed for the purpose of controlling all purifier patents obtainable, and the Smith Company was licensed as sole manufacturers under it. In order to secure a monopoly of the purifier business, suits were brought against millers who were operating purifiers not made under Smith's patents. By this time the value of the machine had become known, the new process of milling had started and thousands of purifiers were in use. The suits were met by the millers, who joined together to defend themselves in an organization called the Miller's National Association. The litigation cost the allied millers $100,000 for attorney's fees in obtaining evidence and preparing to meet the issue in court. In 1880, while the suits were pending with every prospect of a decision favorable to the millers, the matter was, for some unknown reason, settled out of court by a compromise whereby the purifier claimants agreed to dismiss the suits, and the members of the miller's association were licensed under a royalty to use the purifiers in their possession, they agreeing to thereafter purchase no "infringing" machines.

This gave the Smith Company a virtual monopoly of the purifier business, and competing concerns were forced to abandon the field. The unfortunate La Croix, meantime, chagrined at being outwitted, left Minneapolis and soon after died broken hearted and poor. He bequeathed his patents to his family. During the litigation between the owners of the Smith patents and the millers, the wife and daughters of La Croix were living in Rochester, N. Y., in humble circumstances. To them came the legal representative of the purifier company, offering a large sum for the La Croix patents, which were needed to strengthen the claimant's suits. Knowing that object of the purifier company was to harass the trade, and relying upon the individual assurance of millers that their action would be properly appreciated, the hers of La Croix, with a rare spirit of self denial, refused this offer, although they were greatly in need of money. La Croix's brother organized the La Croix Purifier Company in Indianapolis, and sought to manufacture machines under his brother's patents for the benefit of the La Croix heirs. In this undertaking he was succeeding reasonably well whem the settlement of 1880 between the millers and the purifier claimants occurred. This gave the monopoly of the business to the Smith Company, and the very millers who had profited by the honorable conduct of the La Croix heirs made it impossible for them to gain a living by making and selling purifiers. This act of ingratitude was probably completed by the Miller's National Association without a realizing sense of the effect upon its defenseless allies, the La Croix family. It is hard to believe that reputable millers would deliberately abandon those who had been loyal to them in their long fight, and it is possible, though inexcusable, that in their anxiety to conclude a tedious and expensive contrast, they forgot the existence of these modest but deserving people; other wise they might easily have provided in some way for a satisfactory purchase of the La Croix patents, and this have properly acknowledged and rewarded the loyalty of the family. The result meant ruin for the unfortunate heirs of La Croix. The manufactory at Indianapolis was abandoned, and the little family in time came to know absolute and bitter destitution. So acute did this become that very recently a milling journal, learning of it, made an appeal in behalf of the survivors, by which a purse of a few thousand dollars was raised and given to the La Croix heirs as a belated but slight recognition of their services to the milling industry. Given a monopoly of the purifier business, the Smith Company made immense sums. At first, the ex-stone dresser was wise enough to allow the business men associated with him to manage the concern while he traveled and spent his income according to his own untrained and freakish fancy, but later he insisted upon taking the administration of affairs into his own hands, and his abler associates withdrew. This was the beginning of the end. Reckless and foolish extravagance, silly and showy excesses and bad business methods, soon undermined the once flourishing establishment, and ten years after it has secured a monopoly of the business, the Smith Company collapsed in a disastrous and disgraceful failure.

To return to the course of the milling revolution, or rather to its initial stage - new process milling. Certain mills in Minnesota early discovered that by virtue of "High Grinding" and purified middlings they could produce a flour which found eager buyers in the east willing to pay an unprecedented price for it. The mill at Hastings, Minn., owned by Stephen Gardner, was a pioneer in this method; so also were the mills at Northfield and Dundas. A few of these "country" mills, as they were called, were somewhat quicker to put the new method into practical use that the mills of Minneapolis, but that city was the center from which, for many years after, the waves of milling progress radiated. Soon after the purifier was introduced, Minneapolis became, by reason of its increase in flour production, the most important milling center in the world. When, in 1870, La Croix built his first machine, the Minneapolis millers were ready to seize upon any opportunity and push it vigorously. It happened that the group of men then interested in flour making on the Falls of St. Anthony were of the exact type necessary to fully develop and expand new ideas in milling. Among them were some whose names have since attained world wide celebrity in connection with flour, and who were capable of soundly establishing the foundations of the giant industry which followed their initiative. Governor Cadwallader C. Washburn was the miller of broadest vision and greatest foresight who realized more than his fellows what great possibilities the future might have in store for the new milling industry. Of extraordinary strength of mind and executive ability, indomitable energy and large financial resource, he arose to his opportunities to the fullest degree, and lived to see his confidence justified by results. Mr. George H. Christian was the first in Minneapolis to experiment with the purifier, and it was in his mill that La Croix built the original machine. Subsequently, Mr. Christian brought his keen, logical mind and his genius for business to bear on the milling problems of the time, and solved them to his satisfaction. Mr. Charles A. Pillsbury, decidedly one of the greatest merchant millers who ever lived, was fortunately in the milling business at the beginning of the new process, and by his promptness in adopting modern ideas, his courage in exploiting them, and his talent for extending and building up trade connections, founded the great establishment which now bears his name, Besides the Washburns, the Pillsburys, and the Christians, there were other millers in Minneapolis at that time who were of the stuff necessary to control large and developing interests, and they did their part well in the building up of the largest milling center in the world.

In 1871-'72 the purifier began to be used by the Minnesota millers, and profits ranging from one to three dollars a barrel on the product of the mills were soon realized. With such a stimulus, the milling industry in the northwest made progress amazed and troubled flour makers elsewhere, stirring the whole world at home and abroad with a vague spirit of unrest and uneasiness. An era of improvements began which was to last for years. Until this time spring wheat flour had never been sold abroad direct from the mill; indeed it is doubtful if it had found its way there indirectly in quantities worth considering. It was Governor Washburn who, in 1877, said to Mr. William H. Dunwoody, his associate in business; "Go to England. Start the people there to buying our flour, and where stand these mills, which now seem so large, will be erected others far surpass them in importance and capacity." Mr. Dunwoody did so, and after overcoming much prejudice and opposition finally succeeded in establishing a demand for his flour in England. This was the beginning of the spring wheat flour export trade. In 1902 Minneapolis alone shipped more than three million barrels of flour to foreign countries, and Mr. Dunwoody, now one of the wealthiest millers in the world, had lived to see Governor Washburn's prophecy fully realized. On May 2, 1878, a fire in the Washburn A Mill caused an explosion of flour dust, which completely destroyed the most important of the mills and killed a number of operatives. Dust collectors had not then been invented, and the busy mills were filled with a fine dust which under certain circumstances became as inflammable and destructive as gunpowder. To this was due the catastrophe which temporarily checked the growth of the Minneapolis milling industry.

The morning after the disaster the indomitable millers set to work to rebuild their plants. Such was their sublime confidence in the future of the business that they planned the reconstruction on a greatly enlarged scale. They were unaware that a still greater change in milling methods was impending, and that the days of the old and tried millstone were numbered; therefore the rebuilt mills were all equipped with stones for grinding and purifiers for the separation of middlings. Several years before this rolls had been introduced into America by Edward P. Allis & Co., mill builders, whose milling engineer, Mr. William D. Gray, had planned and built some of the most important mills in the country. At first these rolls were of marble, but later of porcelain, imported from Zurich, where they were made by the house of Weggmann. At the time of the rebuilding of the Minneapolis mills the roller process, which soon succeeded the millstone, was considered altogether too experimental for practical use. Governor Washburn during his foreign travels has seem the rollers at work, and from curiosity had ordered a few sets; these had arrived in Minneapolis, but were still unboxed. He contracted with Mr. Gray in 1878 for a small experimental roller mill, and when completed this was the first complete roller mill in the United States, and probably the first complete automatic roller mill in the world. Chilled iron rolls soon succeeded the porcelain variety, and this type of grinding machine, beautiful made and carefully adjusted, then began to displace the millstone throughout the milling world. In a few years all the plants in Minneapolis were roller mills.

The substitution of rolls for millstones was the most radical advance ever made in the science of milling. It is claimed by the Hungarian millers that the Americans appropriated their methods, and that to the millers of Budapest belongs the credit of having been the first to adopt the roller process of making flour. The Americans do not claim that the roller mill was invented by them, nor do they deny that steel rolls were in use in Hungary before they were adopted in the United States. They insist, however, that their system of milling automatically be means of rolls is their own, and that the roller mill was neither invented nor first used in Budapest. The Hungarian roller mill makers claim that the first roller mill plant was installed in Budapest in 1874; that rolls were shipped by then to Minneapolis in 1878, to Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Russia three years earlier, and to France in 1876. This may all be quite true; nevertheless the claim that chilled iron rolls took their origin in Hungary is fallacious. The Farrell Foundry of Ansonia, Conn., entered an order on September 21, 1874, for chilled iron rolls for George H. Christian & Co. of Minneapolis. However in seeking for the origin of the type of roll now in universal use one must go back fifty years further. Unquestionably the inventor of the roller mill was Helfenberger, who in 1820 built and experimented with the first roller mill at Rohrschach, Switzerland. This was never developed. Jakob Sulzberger, of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, invented the first successful system of grinding cereals by rolls. His mill was built in 1832 and started in 1833, and was an immediate and complete success. The honor of the invention, as well as the practical adaptation of chilled iron rolls for making flour, belongs unquestionably to Switzerland, and there is no lack of evidence to prove it. Sulzberger subsequently erected roller mills at Mayence, Milan, Munich, Leipzig, and Stettin, and in 1839 the Pester Walzmuhle of Budapest was equipped with chilled iron rolls made in Rohrschach by Helfenburger, and finished by Sulzberger in Zurich. The Franuenfeld Mill Company, the original roller mill, continued in business until 1846, when it became out of date, and its owners decided not to rebuild it.

During the early "Sos rolls rapidly superseded the millstone in all the principle mills in the United States and Canada, and soon became the standard for new and modern mills the world over. The millstone had served its allotted time and was retired with high honors and pleasant memories. It is now hopelessly obsolete, except in remote districts into which the latest milling inventions have not penetrated. These are few and far between in the milling sections of America. Following the purifier and the roll came a train of useful inventions which were incorporated in the roller system of milling - dust collectors, scourers, bolters, separators, sifters, and other machines. After the radical changes incident to the revolution in milling, and the rebuilding and remodeling of many mills from stones to the roller system, the progress of the trade mechanically has been in the direction of minor improvements, and a closer attention to economy in cost of production, made necessary by the most intense competition, and the reduction of profits to a minimum. The introduction of the new system of milling utterly destroyed thousands of small rural mills in the United States which were not able to meet modern competition; in fact, it created a new type of mill of very large capacity, and had a tendency to concentrate mills at points possessing favorable shipping facilities. In the United Kingdom the completion of the large modern mills at the ports and the increased use of American flour has had a destructive effect upon the small rustic mill with its picturesque surroundings, and it is rapidly passing away. The mill of the twentieth century is a large manufactory of flour, with great capacity, employing many operatives, and managed by millers who may know but little about the mechanical details, but are wise in methods of selling, and especially careful in keeping the cost of production at the lowest figure possible; the competition being terrific. The science of milling today is exact and methodical, being, in brief, to produce the utmost from the wheat at the least possible cost. The result is that the masses are receiving the best, purest, and most nutritious, as well as the cheapest flour every known in the world's history. To this one great end all milling progress has steadily tended since the days of the quern and the saddle stone.

Commercially, the millers of the United States outrank all others. Their mills are the largest and have the greatest capacity. The development since the introduction of the purifier and the rolls has been such that American flour now competes successfully in all foreign countries from which it is not debarred by prohibitory tariffs. The number of mills in the United States, as shown by the census of 1900, exceeded twenty five thousand, a very large number being mills of small capacity. These employed a capital of more than 200 million dollars, used nearly 490 million bushels of wheat annually, producing about 102 million barrels of flour valued at 348 million dollars. For the fiscal year ending June, 1902, the millers of the United States exported nearly 66 million dollars worth of flour. Minneapolis is the largest flour producing city in the world. Its daily capacity is estimated at 70,000 barrels. The largest flour mill in existence is the Pillsbury A, at Minneapolis, with a capacity of 14,000 barrels daily. In 1902 the output of the Minneapolis mills was over 16 million barrels; in 1878, when the experimental roller mill was built, it was 940,000 barrels. The direct export trade in flour from Minneapolis was 109,000 in 1878; in 1902 it was over three million barrels. Other milling centers in the United States which produce large quantities of flour are New York, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Toledo, Indianapolis, Superior, and Duluth. Working with these centers to produce the enormous output of the nation are a large number of modern flour mills, of a capacity exceeding the latest mills known in the millstone period, scattered throughout the principle milling States, all having their direct foreign and domestic connections and doing a thriving and important business. In Great Britain large mills have been erected during recent years, principally at the ports. Owing to the fact that they are able to secure American wheat at very low rates of freight, and because of the recently imposed tax on flour and grain entering Britain, which discriminates in favor of the home miller, these and other British mills of the modern type are meeting American competition and doing a prosperous business. France and Germany protect their millers by a tariff which prevents foreign competition. In these countries milling continues to be a conservative and rather sluggish industry not given to many changes. In Canada, owing to the opening of the western wheat fields, there is much activity in mill building, and in the Canadian northwest there are several highly important modern milling plants which are developing into mills of the largest type, doing both a foreign and domestic trade. In New Zealand and Australia flour milling is an important industry, but temporarily at a stand still owing to crop failures. The mills of Budapest, Hungary, are fairly prosperous, although their flour is no longer in as great demand in British markets as it was twenty years ago. In Holland, American competition has somewhat crippled the Dutch mills; but during 1902, owing to the freight discriminations in America against flour and in favor of exported wheat, they were able to regain some of their lost trade. In Belgium, the tariff has driven American flour out of the market, but the Belgian millers are far from happy owing to ruinous competition between themselves. The mills of Russia are seldom heard from in the world's markets, but some of them are very modern in their equipment and evidently prospering. In Argentina flour milling progresses slowly, but a few plants are making an effort to enter the British markets. In other South American countries the milling industry is purely local in its extent and influence. The British and American millers are engages in an interesting struggle for the control of the flour trade of the United Kingdom, with the advantage in favor of the home miller because of the policy of American carriers in discriminating against flour for export in favor of wheat. The grist miller all over the world is of rapidly diminishing importance, the merchant miller with his increased milling capacity having limited his trade and curtailed his operations.

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